by Bob Calhoun
The crowd follows Steve Wozniak around the floor of the Glass House in downtown San Jose, but nobody gets too close. It’s like he’s invented a kind of force field, allowing him to move through the tech showcase at his Silicon Valley Comic Con with three feet between him and his VIP fans. By co-founding Apple along with Steve Jobs, Wozniak has created the world that we live in. He is like a demigod even though he’s wearing an arm brace and a Silicon Valley Comic Con t-shirt. The Woz wears his own merch, but creators of worlds, or at least empires, get away with things like that.
Earlier, during a panel conversation with William Shatner at San Jose’s nearby City National Civic, Woz explains that he hurt his hand while opening a bottle of coke from the hotel minibar. He also says that he cut his arm while opening a box, but then adds that he’s “immune to pain.” Shatner then talks about falling off horses. It’s all a little surreal, and it’s quickly apparent that Silcon Valley Comic Con is not like other comic cons.
Sure, there’s an artist’s alley along the back of the main floor at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, the con’s main venue. Nichelle Nichols from “Star Trek” and Sam J. Jones from the kitschy 1980 version of “Flash Gordon” are there signing autographs. These are the things you’d expect at a comic con. But Acura is there too, showing off the automaker’s new NSX “supercar.” I’m not certain, but I think Silicon Valley Comic Con is the first comic con with an automotive sponsor. Facebook is also there along with Softbank Robotics, makers of Pepper the Robot.
NASA is also making its first appearance at this second year of Silicon Valley Comic Con. NASA Biosciences researchers Anne-Sofie Schreurs and Cassandra Juran speak passionately about cell-regeneration in the zero gravity and increased radiation outside of Earth’s orbit. They also show off a 3D printed bone that scientists can use to study cancer. Other NASA scientists will talk to you about how they’re using the Pleiades super computer with its theoretical peak performance of 7.25 petaflops to finally put people on Mars as long as the funding holds out.
The crowd in San Jose is hungry for this con. Several audience members in the line to ask questions of Shatner and Woz took time to thank Shatner for returning to San Jose, and thanked Woz for making the con happen. The people in their seats cheered wildly at this.
There will come a time—maybe even by next year’s third Silicon Valley Comic Con—when Hollywood realizes that this con in San Jose is drawing 60,000 people with higher than average median incomes. Disney will send Tom Holland or Daisy Ridley to hype new Spider-Man and Star Wars movies. There will be big announcements and trailers will drop there. (Tobey Maguire made an appearance at Wondercon in San Francisco back when he was the web-slinger and San Francisco still cared enough to host a major comic con.) But right now San Jose is more than ecstatic to receive such perennials (AKA legends) as Shatner, Woz, Adam West, and the ever-vigorous Buzz Aldrin. The trailer premiers can wait.
Silicon Valley Comic Con is a tech conference, an auto show, and a science fair all wrapped in a comic book convention. It’s quirky, it’s different, and that’s a very good thing. With seemingly more parents bringing their kids to this con than other comic cons, the heavy science and tech presence is there to show the next generation that you can do more than create fantasy worlds. You can bring those fantasy worlds to life.